The Merchant of Venice
|ACT II SCENE IX||Belmont. A room in PORTIA’S house.|
|[Enter NERISSA with a Servitor]|
|NERISSA||Quick, quick, I pray thee; draw the curtain straight:|
|The Prince of Arragon hath ta’en his oath,|
|And comes to his election presently.|
|[ Flourish of cornets. Enter the PRINCE OF ARRAGON, PORTIA, and their trains ]|
|PORTIA||Behold, there stand the caskets, noble prince:|
|If you choose that wherein I am contain’d,|
|Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemnized:|
|But if you fail, without more speech, my lord,|
|You must be gone from hence immediately.|
|ARRAGON||I am enjoin’d by oath to observe three things:|
|First, never to unfold to any one||10|
|Which casket ’twas I chose; next, if I fail|
|Of the right casket, never in my life|
|To woo a maid in way of marriage: Lastly,|
|If I do fail in fortune of my choice,|
|Immediately to leave you and be gone.|
|PORTIA||To these injunctions every one doth swear|
|That comes to hazard for my worthless self.|
|ARRAGON||And so have I address’d me. Fortune now|
|To my heart’s hope! Gold; silver; and base lead.||20|
|‘Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.’|
|You shall look fairer, ere I give or hazard.|
|What says the golden chest? ha! let me see:|
|‘Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.’|
|What many men desire! that ‘many’ may be meant|
|By the fool multitude, that choose by show,|
|Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach;|
|Which pries not to the interior, but, like the martlet,|
|Builds in the weather on the outward wall,|
|Even in the force and road of casualty.||30|
|I will not choose what many men desire,|
|Because I will not jump with common spirits|
|And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.|
|Why, then to thee, thou silver treasure-house;|
|Tell me once more what title thou dost bear:|
|‘Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves:’|
|And well said too; for who shall go about|
|To cozen fortune and be honourable|
|Without the stamp of merit? Let none presume|
|To wear an undeserv’d dignity.||40|
|O, that estates, degrees and offices|
|Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honour|
|Were purchased by the merit of the wearer!|
|How many then should cover that stand bare!|
|How many be commanded that command!|
|How much low peasantry would then be glean’d|
|From the true seed of honour! and how much honour|
|Pick’d from the chaff and ruin of the times|
|To be new-varnish’d! Well, but to my choice:|
|‘Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.’||50|
|I will assume desert. Give me a key for this,|
|And instantly unlock my fortunes here.|
|[He opens the silver casket]|
|PORTIA||[Aside] Too long a pause for that which you find there.|
|ARRAGON||What’s here? the portrait of a blinking idiot,|
|Presenting me a schedule! I will read it.|
|How much unlike art thou to Portia!|
|How much unlike my hopes and my deservings!|
|‘Who chooseth me shall have as much as he deserves.’|
|Did I deserve no more than a fool’s head?|
|Is that my prize? are my deserts no better?||60|
|PORTIA||To offend, and judge, are distinct offices|
|And of opposed natures.|
|ARRAGON||What is here?|
|The fire seven times tried this:|
|Seven times tried that judgment is,|
|That did never choose amiss.|
|Some there be that shadows kiss;|
|Such have but a shadow’s bliss:|
|There be fools alive, I wis,|
|Silver’d o’er; and so was this.|
|Take what wife you will to bed,||70|
|I will ever be your head:|
|So be gone: you are sped.|
|Still more fool I shall appear|
|By the time I linger here|
|With one fool’s head I came to woo,|
|But I go away with two.|
|Sweet, adieu. I’ll keep my oath,|
|Patiently to bear my wroth.|
|[Exeunt Arragon and train]|
|PORTIA||Thus hath the candle singed the moth.|
|O, these deliberate fools! when they do choose,||80|
|They have the wisdom by their wit to lose.|
|NERISSA||The ancient saying is no heresy,|
|Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.|
|PORTIA||Come, draw the curtain, Nerissa.|
|[Enter a Servant]|
|Servant||Where is my lady?|
|PORTIA||Here: what would my lord?|
|Servant||Madam, there is alighted at your gate|
|A young Venetian, one that comes before|
|To signify the approaching of his lord;|
|From whom he bringeth sensible regreets,|
|To wit, besides commends and courteous breath,||90|
|Gifts of rich value. Yet I have not seen|
|So likely an ambassador of love:|
|A day in April never came so sweet,|
|To show how costly summer was at hand,|
|As this fore-spurrer comes before his lord.|
|PORTIA||No more, I pray thee: I am half afeard|
|Thou wilt say anon he is some kin to thee,|
|Thou spend’st such high-day wit in praising him.|
|Come, come, Nerissa; for I long to see|
|Quick Cupid’s post that comes so mannerly.||100|
|NERISSA||Bassanio, lord Love, if thy will it be!|
Next: The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1
Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 9
From The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co.
This scene represents the discomfiture of another suitor of Portia, the solemn and deliberate Prince of Arragon; and concludes with the heralded arrival of Bassanio.
18. to [the] hazard. Compare Henry V. iii. 7. 93.
19. address’d me, prepared myself.
19. Fortune now, etc., may good fortune now attend the hope of my heart.
25. that ‘many’ may be meant By, etc. By was used commonly after the verb to mean, where we should use for.
27. fond, foolish.
28. martlet, swallow.
30. force, power.
32. jump, agree with.
38. cozen, cheat.
43. purchased, acquired, won.
44. cover, wear their hats as maters.
51. I will assume, etc. This line is an Alexandrine, as frequently where the sense is broken. Arragon pauses after desert; and turning to Portia says, “Give me the key for this [the silver casket].”
48. ruin, rubbish.
53. Portia (Aside). This reading, which is approved by Dr. Furness, seems necessary to the preservation of Portia’s kindliness and courtesy of spirit. The lips that uttered the beautiful words on “the quality of mercy” could never have taunted a losing but honest lover to his face in the moment of his defeat. The asides were by no means always marked in the old editions of plays.
61. distinct, accented on the first syllable.
68. i-wis, assuredly.
69. Silver’d o’er. The idiot’s picture was silver’d o’er, being contained in a silver box.
70-71. Marry whom you will, you will always have me, a fool, for your head.
74. By the time, in proportion to the time.
79. singed the moth, evidently rhyming with Arragon’s preceding couplet and in mockery of it.
81. wit, knowledge, power of mind.
85. my lord, a sportive rejoinder to the servant’s deep bow and tone of pompous respect in addressing Portia as “my lady.” It is by the mockery of Portia’s rhyme to the couplet of Arragon, and by this merry answer to her servant that the author makes clear to us how delighted Portia is to have escaped another suitor.
89. sensible regreets, evident salutations. The strange word regreet is used elsewhere. Compare King John, iii. 1. 241: “Unyoke this seizure and this kind regreet.” It is not unlikely that the fine language of the servant is the cause of Portia’s mockery.
91. Yet I have not, I have never yet.
98. high-day wit, holiday terms. Compare The Merry Wives of Windsor, iii. 2. 69: “He writes verses, he speaks holiday.”
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Felix E. Schelling. New York: American Book Co., 1903.